Winter, 1919

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A short story written in the Modernist style of Ernest Hemingway. Modeled after Hills Like White Elephants.

Winter, 1919


 The valley of the Somme stretched wide and far, the horizon barely scraping her waters at some unreachable point in the distance. Beyond the humid banks to the east was a musty green forest. On this side buildings stood instead of trees and cold winds assailed the station. Covering them both was a hazy sheet of dark sky that always threatened rain. The Frenchman and the woman with him lounged inside, their winter coats watching from across the café. The train from Noyelle would arrive soon. It paused here briefly and carried on to Cayeux. The tracks ran along the edge of the village, overlooking the water.

 “I need a drink,” the man said, drained. “If it storms, the train might be late.”

 “But last night…” the woman said. She was interrupted immediately.

 “I don’t care, frankly.” He walked up to the counter, slower than the river’s current.

 Deux verres vins.” He said bluntly, seeming to order the entire staff. The server glanced at his watch and grimaced. He brought two glasses of wine and poured them into the glasses, never once looking at the man. The man began to drink voraciously, while the woman was looking out the window at the trees. They were dark in the clouds and the river continued to drag downstream.

 “What do you suppose is behind all those trees?” she asked.


The birds on the café patio outside scattered. The man remembered, sipped his wine and squinted out the window. His wrinkles and scar tightened.

 “What does it matter,” He murmured, taking an unsatisfied drink. The glass was empty.

 “I think it’s interesting,” she said. “Just to wonder.”

 “I’m far more interested in this wine than some damn foliage,” He said with a violent cough. She noticed that his eyes were transfixed across the river now, and she tensed, but was patient. She drank her wine. It wouldn’t be long now.

 “Should we have another one?”

 “Why not.” His eyes were still locked on the trees. Rain suddenly began to fall. She knew what he saw behind the trees and what he heard in the thunder and lightning.

 un autre , s'il vous plait,” She said, waving to the server. He nodded and she turned back to him. He did not turn back.

 “Listen, there’s no reason for stressing over this,” the woman said. “He’s seen hundreds before just like you, and they came out fine.”

 He remained silent, gently wheezing.

 “All it is are some blisters and rashes. After some bandages and rest, it’s all back to normal.”

 “And my voice?”

 “Like I said, all back to normal.”

 “How can you be so sure?” His voice was fading. The server returned and filled the glasses, and he did not react, but clenched the arm of his chair as if it were his life.

 “I’ve met some of the others. They’re happy. They moved on.”

 “And you think I should just forget. As if it were something trivial… something easy…” He struggled to say. She reached over and grasped his concrete forearm, glancing at his left eye. It would be unable to glance back.

 “You’re alive. That’s what matters most.”

 “There’s peace in death. Happiness, even.” He gurgled and pointed outside at the trees. “But they didn’t let me have it!”

 The thunder boomed again, sounding the drums of war. A moment passed, and lighting struck, the artillery. She shuddered. He did not.

 “What do you mean?” she asked.

 “It doesn’t matter. I don’t matter. So let’s get it over with.” He rasped.

 “Look, you matter to me. Everything will be fine. If you aren’t comfortable, by all means-”

 “Stop.” He interrupted again. He shook her arm away, finally turning to face her. She looked into the trenches of his eyes and was about to console him when thunder came once more. His neck snapped back towards the window and the trees. He finished his second wine and slumped in his chair, one hand covering his left eye.

 “You don’t have to worry,” she said. “About anything anymore. It’s over.”

 “I can’t forget.”

 “I don’t believe you.”

 “Every day it reminds me,” He stroked his red scar, taking in a difficult breath.

 “That’s what they can change. That’s why you are getting on this train.”

 “Our doctors told me it was impossible. “

 “So was surviving.  And yet, here you are.”

 He had run out of things to say and strength to say them. He simply nodded, and seeing the time, stood up. The train was supposed to have come ten minutes ago, but had not. A faint rumbling sound, inaudible to everyone but the man, approached. It was not thunder.

 “Where are you going?” she asked.

 He pointed to the station.

 “So you’ve agreed to it, then? Fantastic. I’ll visit you soon, when you are feeling better.”

 He mustered up the will for the parting remark, and said, “I already am.”

He trudged through the rain with her watching from the café, hopeful that the procedure would be a success. She finished her wine, and looking down, saw his bags still on the ground by his chair. Had he forgotten them? The rumbling was louder now, and she could hear it. It wouldn’t be long now.

He did not enter the station, but rather stepped onto the tracks.

He stared intently across the river and into the trees with his one good eye.

She ran out into the rain.






Submitted: October 31, 2016

© Copyright 2022 G.S.. All rights reserved.

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Bert Broomberg

Good story, I liked it a lot. Still, I would like to point out that there are two things that I found a bit strange in your story. You described the forest as being musty green. I don't think you can combine the sight of a forest in the distance with the adjective musty. the meaning of musty just doesn't seem to fit, and in winter a forest looks more grey, brown or even black than green. You also said that the man wasn't interested in the foliage. That's a rather strange remark to make in winter when all the leaves are gone. I hope you can appreciate what I pointed out. They are just minor things and I really liked your story.

Mon, February 6th, 2017 9:01pm

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